Cats in Largo Argentina: the unusual shelter between the ruins of ancient roman temples.

Updated: April 16, 2014

A cat staring at me while I was taking pictures

Rome is a city with a lot of homeless cats, but one place where you can be sure to find many of them is Largo Argentina. This square hosts the ruins of four ancient Roman temples (today identified -not with extreme certainty- as the temple of Juturna, the temple of Fortune, temple of Feronia, and temple of Lares Permarini). But this place is not only interesting for history lovers, it is also a point of interest for cat lovers.

Black cat having a walk between the ancient roman columns

When you reach largo Argentina, you'll find that the level of the archaeological area is lower that the level of the street, so you can see the square from the top. What you'll see? Several cats (on average I'd say 20-30 in the whole piazza) walking around the roman columns, stretching on the buildings, posing for the tourists who take pics from the balconies. They are lovely but... why are there cats in largo Argentina?

View of largo Argentina from the street

The fact is that there is a real official shelter for our feline friends here, and there's an organization that takes care of the animals. The organization is usually referred as Cat Sanctuary in english language, and it's managed by Silvia Viviani. They take care of the stray cats coming from several areas of Rome, help those in difficult conditions, give in adoption the guests of the colony (the shelter has around 250 cats), and they also promote campaigns for sterilization.

As Silvia Viviani writes on her website, in a long article about the controversial practice of sterilization :

... "It has to be clear that none of us wants to celebrate and glorify sterilization, by itself. But in a society where we can't even take care of all the children who come to life, it looks evident that it's not a possibility to let a cat, which is left free to procreate, produce up to 25.000 descendants in five years. To us, it looks like sterilization is the less worse solution, considering that on this topic (like on many others) we can't choose the absolute best, but choose, hardly, the less worse which is very relative.

We can't let nature do it, as many say. Since ten thousand years, since cat has been domesticated by men, this animal doesn't live anymore "according to nature". The two hundred thousand cats in Rome, just to talk about them, depend for their life from those who offer them the food they can't find by hunting.

Sign in Largo argentina, inviting people not to abandon cats. "Instead of abandoning cat, sterilize them".

We are not talking about gazelles in the african savana or pumas on the Rocky mountains, but of an army of cats condamned to live in a jungle of cement." ...

Now, while a lot of tourist just distractly notice the animals wandering around the ruins from the busiest side of largo Argentina (where the library Feltrinelli is), most of them never find that it is actually possible to visit the shelter. In fact, on the corner of the other side of the square, between via Florida and via Arenula, there is the entrance to the Cat Sanctuary. I just visited it for the first time, and I was surprised that there was this little colony with so many cats hidden below the street level!

The entrance. The shelter is open every day from 12.00 to 18.00.

What did I find? The first thing that surprised me is that the association is private, and not funded by the city administration. In fact, the volunteers have somehow a "squatter" status and appearently the archaelogical administration of Rome has made some attempts to get rid of it. But since the association has always kept a low profile, and since someone recognized the value of the work performed by the volunteers, so far the Cat Sanctuary is still alive and working. After all, the cats are also a tourist attraction.

Some of the cats resting between the ancient ruins

How is the shelter inside? It is divided in two sections, the visitable one, where the there are cats ready for adoption, and a section with handicapped cats. In the first section, one of the volunteers (a women who really loved cats, it was evident from the way she talked about them!) explained that also those "special" cats could be adopted, but they keep them in a side area because they need special cures, and sadly most of the people only wanted to adopt kitties.

The cat who stayed immobile for minutes, making me think it was a souvenir!

The curious thing is that while I was chatting with one of the volunteers, I was taking some pictures at the souvenirs on the table (the association is financed by private donations and tries to collect some money by selling cat shirts and gadgets) and I was SURE that this cat was not real! It's been like entire minutes without making a single move, perfectly positioned between the statues... but the woman assured me that it was a real cat, and yes, after minutes it finally made a single, imperceptible move with its head!

Inside the shelter: tourists visiting and cats ready for adoption

What to say, a combination of ancient roman ruins and cats, the place is definitely original. Many tourists don't even notice it when they walk in this area, but the shelter is worth a visit if you are in largo Argentina. Just few steps under the street level. You'll have a chance to see a lot of cute cats, and if you desire, also to adopt a new friend for your house.

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